JoHanna Biang teaches UGA students about growing their own food at UGArden.
It wasn’t until high school that JoHanna Biang realized growing a spring vegetable garden with her dad and watering her grandmother’s plants could lead to her future career path. Those childhood moments inspired her to get a Masters degree in horticulture, which resulted in her becoming the full-time farm manager at UGArden. She’s also currently working on her Ph.D. in crop and soil science while teaching interns and undergrads.
JoHanna is a firm believer that storing, preparing, and cooking with fresh food would allow more hunger relief organizations to encourage healthier eating among food insecure communities. That’s why UGArden partners with the UGA Campus Kitchen, a food hunger relief program, to donate the surplus produce they harvest to Athens neighbors who need it most.
“While shelf-stable items are important,” JoHanna says, “our program focuses on being a source for fresh produce, which allows us to have a community-oriented mission.”
Before the pandemic, JoHanna had never delivered the excess food herself, but joined the delivery ranks after being shorthanded of students over the summer. Since her primary responsibility is to grow the food, JoHanna doesn’t always see where it ends up. Being part of the delivery process solidified the importance of her work and confirmed that she’s a part of something bigger than herself.
“[The program] was impacting not just their diet and physical health, but also their mental health, as social connection is so important during this time,” she states.
Simple things like smiling and making eye contact with the food insecure families who benefit from her produce is an assurance that no one is alone.
“Sometimes we think it’s just about the meal or the program. But it’s not just getting from point A to point B,” JoHanna says. “There’s a whole social aspect to it that’s a lot more than the food and the produce. It’s about being part of a community helping each other out.”
It’s this service that brings JoHanna peace of mind knowing that if she or her loved ones were ever in a place of food insecurity, there would be neighbors to support her the way she has supported others. She’s also thankful for the moments in teaching where she can see that her students are clicking with the work.
“Those little moments are really impactful and encourage me to keep going. It shows that I was able to instill the things I love about food and experiences, and I’m so grateful to be able to give that to someone else.”
This story was contributed by UGA’s Talking Dog Advertising & PR Agency.